Category

Wood Story

One Lone Madrone: A Hardwood (Floor) Story

By | Wood Story | No Comments

This post was written by BLA board member Brandy Saffell, Forest Conservation Specialist, Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District.

Bonnie and Bob Shumaker have always admired the madrone that grows naturally on their tree farm for its beauty and benefit to wildlife. When Bonnie saw the display of Oregon wood samples at the front desk of the Starker Forests office in Corvallis, Oregon, she regarded the Douglas-fir, western redcedar, grand fir, red alder – all beautiful, useful, and fairly common native woods. But she especially appreciated the madrone. Madrone wood has a luminous, strawberry-blond hue with streaks and touches of caramel in the heartwood and around knots. That visit inspired Bonnie and Bob to consider using madrone to make a hardwood floor for their home near Banks, Oregon.

Bonnie and Bob Shumaker at their home.

I have known Bob and Bonnie for roughly six years, starting when I was the assistant to the Washington County Extension forester and in my current position with Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District. They are exemplary land managers, and are always on top of maintaining forest health and resilience, managing weeds, coordinating wildfire preparedness projects with neighbors, and enhancing habitat across their 160-acre property. They do not do anything halfway. Before firing up a single chainsaw, they committed to researching the entire madrone floor project start to finish.

Early on, the Shumakers had to reckon with some challenges to working with madrone. Madrone is prone to cracking and twisting with changes in ambient moisture, which can happen at any time from cutting and milling to drying and installation. They learned they needed to seal the cut surface of the tree almost immediately after it was cut, and then again once the boards were cut and stacked. They would also need to create a drying environment that limited abrupt changes in moisture, and plan to have the flooring glued AND nailed during installation. They also needed a tree that had grown relatively straight to limit the amount of tension and compression wood that forms when the tree bends and twists to find light as it grows. Madrone notoriously does not grow very straight, and even though the Shumakers have ample madrone on their property, it was going to be a challenge to find one large and straight enough to supply the amount of wood they needed.

Bonnie learned to seal the cut surface of the
tree almost immediately after it was cut to avoid cracking.

Fortuitously, another Washington County woodland owner called with an opportunity. He was building a new home and needed to remove a 52-inch diameter madrone with eight feet of straight trunk. He only wanted a couple of slabs for a counter and desktop, and would be willing to give the Shumakers the rest of the wood for the cost of the sawing. The trunk was quarter-sawn, and the Shumakers arrived at the landowners with end-seal in hand.  Lyal Purinton, a Oregon Small Woodlands Association member, brought his portable sawmill and rough-cut the boards at one and one-quarter inch. Three trailer loads later, the boards were stacked and stickered in the Shumakers’ barn.

Due to the moisture sensitivity of madrone, they applied another coat of end seal after the boards were stacked, weighted plywood over the stack, and covered the sides of the stack with a shade cloth to slow the drying process over the next nine months. J&B Wood Products in Oakland, Oregon, kiln dried and cut the boards tongue and groove on side and ends into flooring pieces. And finally, they hired Altamira Wood Floors to install the floor, which required a lot of creativity and craftsmanship to work the pieces around curved edges in the home. All things considered, from felling to installation, the Shumakers estimate they spent roughly $15 per square foot for the entire project and the process took a little over one year.

For those interested in a similar project, Bob and Bonnie encourage doing your homework and seeking advice before you cut. Speak with your local OSU Extension agent, Oregon Small Woodlands Association chapter members, neighbors, and/or local professionals (like those in the Build Local Alliance directory), and have a plan before you start.

The finished floor after being installed by Altamira Wood Floors.

Bob and Bonnie are incredibly generous with their time, volunteering for the Washington County Small Woodland Association and as Master Woodland Manager mentors, writing articles sharing their experiences managing their forest – and making time to answer my request for an interview. Thanks to small woodland owners like them, we can all be inspired to make more creative and informed management decisions.